Showing Your First Norwich Terrier

You are the delighted owner of an enchanting Norwich Terrier puppy!  How lucky you are to have a playful, affectionate, and sometimes naughty little sprite in your home.  You’re making progress with establishing daily routines, including meal times, crate training, potty training, walking on a lead, and dog tricks—and you’re learning to strip puppy hair and clip toenails despite the noisy protests!  If you’re new to the breed, and have been lucky enough to get a “show quality” purebred puppy, you’ll discover that going to a dog show is lots of fun.  It’s a chance to meet other enthusiastic Norwich owners, see other dogs, exchange tips and stories on how to take care of our breed, and even go shopping for unique dog accessories and gear!

AKC-registered purebred dogs may be entered in AKC-licensed and sanctioned shows and compete for AKC championship points beginning at 6 months of age.  The underlying purpose of conformation dog shows is for owners and breeders to show their dogs to the judge, ringside spectators, and to each other as well—for demonstrating how well the dogs that are being exhibited compare with the Breed Standard, the ideal set of physical and personality traits established for the breed by the national AKC Breed Club, in this case the Norwich Terrier Club of America.  The Breed Standard is used by Norwich Terrier breeders for evaluating their breeding stock, and guides AKC judges on judging the breed.

Most would agree that success and recognition of your dog in conformation dog shows takes good genes, along with good training, good grooming, and a lot of love!  Amateur exhibitors have to be on their toes, as this is the only sport where amateurs and professionals (e.g. professional dog handlers) compete in the same competition—but experienced amateurs have a fighting chance to win and do so!

In the competition ring, entries for each breed competition are shown to the judge in various classes defined by sex and age group, beginning with the class for 6-9 months old puppy dogs and ending with the competition for Best of Breed, in which the Winners Dog and the Winners Bitch from the class competitions compete for the Best of Winners designation, and concurrently vie against any finished AKC Champions and Grand Champions that were entered in competition for the Best of Breed award.  The Best of Breed winner gets to compete in the Group competition, and the Group winners ultimately compete for Best of Show.  (See the AKC chart).

As in all sports, friendly competition among exhibitors who may be good friends outside the show ring adds to the excitement of the experience, although no one can deny the pride and thrill of a win.  However, winning isn’t everything:  human and canine socialization, building human-canine teamwork, and mastering new skills are a part of the valuable experience of participation.  Above all, going to the dog show should be fun for the owner and the dog:  although caught up in the spirit of competition, one has to step back and realize that there is no such thing as a perfect dog—and the most beautiful dog is not going to win if it trots around the show ring with its head and tail down, looking like it wished it were anywhere but there!

AKC Championship

For an AKC Champion title, a dog must win a total of 15 AKC championship points including at least 2 “major” wins (awards of 3, 4, or 5 points) under two different judges.  Points towards the AKC championship are awarded to the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch at each dog show and in general, the greater the number of dogs entered in breed competition, the greater the number of points that are available to be awarded, up to a maximum of 5 per show.  The points are awarded according to the AKC Schedule of Points, determined by the region of the country where the AKC-licensed and sanctioned dog show is held, and the numbers of males (dogs) and females (bitches) entered in the given breed competition.  The point schedule is available on the AKC website.

While some outstanding Norwich may start winning points from the puppy classes and finish their AKC Championship before they reach one year old, a more commonly seen pattern of progression is that points are won by entering selected dog shows over the span of a year or so, until enough AKC championship points are accumulated to finish.

Show Ring Patterns

The easiest way for the new owner/exhibitor to learn about going to dog shows is to be mentored by one or more experienced Norwich exhibitors, or to be coached by a professional dog handler.  Beyond basic puppy obedience classes and learning to walk on a lead, the puppy and his owner/handler must become familiar with the show ring patterns of walking on a lead around the ring counter-clockwise, standing in the stacked position (weight on all four legs with head, ears, and tail up to create a pleasing picture) on the ground (called a “free stack”), standing in the stacked position on the table while being examined by the judge, walking down and back (away from and towards the judge), and paying attention.

Following the show ring patterns is challenging for puppies, but the judges and spectators alike want to encourage a skittish puppy to be brave and to complete the show ring sequence as much as possible, as confidence builds with each time in the ring.  These patterns can be practiced at home, and can be augmented by practice at classes sponsored by area kennel clubs, dog training facilities, or given by some professional handlers to instruct exhibitors and their dogs.  The classes simulate the show ring environment by the presence of many dogs and the need to wait one’s turn for the individual examination by the judge while stacked on the table, and thus are very helpful practice sessions for young and old show dogs alike.  At some of the dog shows, there is an AKC beginner puppy 4-6 months old competition, which parallels the regular competition in format, and gives exhibitors and their puppies a chance to practice and compete in the actual show environment for wins, but without earning points towards the championship.

Grooming for Show

The double coat of the Norwich Terrier consists of a coarse outer coat and a fine undercoat that must be hand-stripped to achieve the desired texture and form described in the Breed Standard.  While most motivated amateurs can learn to hand-strip the Norwich coat for routine maintenance and competition at local dog shows, it can take years of practice to train one’s eye and to learn to groom the Norwich well enough to compete successfully at the bigger regional and national shows.  Dogs groomed and conditioned by owners and exhibitors with years of experience seem to have a special polished look.  However, one has to begin somewhere, and receiving tips and instructions in person from your dog’s breeder, friends, and other experienced groomers during visits and at dog shows are usually the most helpful, as each dog’s conformation and coat are slightly different.  Practice, practice, and more practice!  Experienced groomers like to say that’s the only way you’ll find out what grooming tools and techniques work best for you—and if you create an uneven spot in the coat, the hair will grow out!

Getting the Norwich Terrier’s coat into show condition ideally begins 3 to 4 months before the show, although some groom the coat on a regular basis resulting in a “rolling coat”.  Lucky is the person who has a good friend or two nearby with grooming expertise that can help groom your Norwich in the months before the show.  However, for the novice that is progressing slowly and lives distant from experienced Norwich groomers, the most accessible pathway towards your dog earning his/her AKC championship title may be to engage a professional dog handler who will prepare and show your dog for a fee.

Professional Handlers

Professional handlers have the talents, skills, and experience that enable them to groom, train, and present the dogs that they’re showing to each dog’s best advantage.  Each handler will have certain breeds that they are most familiar with, so look for a handler that has a history of successfully showing Norwich Terriers.  The best way to find out about a handler is to talk to other Norwich owners, and if possible, to observe the handler at work both in and outside of the show ring at the dog shows.  A good way to get acquainted with a prospective handler is to meet and talk at the dog show, or to be introduced by friends.  Owners should ask the handler for an informal assessment of their dog’s potential for success in the show ring, agree upon goals for the dog’s show career, and become familiar with the handler’s fee schedule and other terms of engagement.  The handler may ask you to consider having your dog board and travel with him/her to go to distant shows in the future if major wins are needed to finish the championship title.

Enter a Dog Show

A convenient way to find dog shows in your area is to go to the AKC website and search for conformation events, or visit the show superintendent’s site (e.g. infodog.com).  For shows of interest to you, make special note of the show superintendent and the deadline date for entering your dog (usually at least 2 weeks before the show date).  You can enter your dog online by going to the designated show superintendent’s website or you can call the superintendent’s office to enter by telephone.  You will need your dog’s AKC Registration Number, AKC registered name, and date of birth as well as a credit card for online or telephone entry.  If there is sufficient time before the entry deadline, entries also can be mailed to the Superintendent’s office by U.S. mail or by commercial delivery services (e.g. UPS, FedEx, DHL).  Official confirmation of your dog’s entry and the official entry number assigned to your dog will be returned to you by U.S. mail or by email about 1 week before the show.  It’s a good idea to bring the confirmation slip with you to the dog show—just in case there is a mistake you will have proof of your entry).

The “Premium List” (PL) for a given dog show gives all the official information about the show, including the sponsoring dog club, club officers, show venue address and description, list of judges, kinds of competitions, entry fees, reserved grooming spaces, driving directions, parking, local hotels accepting guests with dogs, veterinary services, and special activities at the show.  There is usually a link to the PL for a given dog show on the superintendent’s website so you can preview it online and download it to your own computer, or you may contact the superintendent’s office and request that a printed PL be mailed to you.

The “Judging Program” (JP) for the dog show becomes available about 1 week after the deadline for submission of show entries, and gives the actual numbers of dogs entered in each breed, the judge and show ring assignments, and the time of each breed competition; also the judge and show ring assignments, time, and order for the Group competitions and the Best in Show competition.  There is usually a link to the JP on the superintendent’s website so you can download the document, and printed copies are available at the Superintendent’s Desk on the day of the show.

Dog Show Gear

Essential dog show gear includes a dog crate, crate pad or bed, crate cover (a large bath towel will suffice), water, water bucket, dog food, food bowl, show lead, bait (for the show ring), small squeaky toy, grooming table, grooming arm, grooming noose, grooming tools and products, a roll of paper towels, pre-moistened hand wipes, a cooler with drinks and snacks, a folding chair, and a trolley or low wagon to transport all the gear!  A waterproof tarp, floor mat, and exercise pen are useful if you plan to spend the day at the show.  Pop-up tents and sun shades are advisable for outdoor shows if covered grooming space is not provided.

Day of Show

Plan your arrival at the dog show grounds at least 2 to 3 hours before the ring time assigned to your breed.  Ask the parking attendant to direct you to the “drop-off” area so you can unload your dog and dog show gear close to the exhibition area (they will often ask you what ring number you’re going to), before moving the car to a parking space for the day.  Find the grooming area, and set up your gear creating your “home away from home” for the dog show.

Locate the show ring assigned to your breed, confirm the breed and show time posted on the side of the ring, and ask the ring steward for your official arm band (it helps to know your dog’s official number assigned for the show, but if you’ve forgotten, there is usually a show catalog on the ring steward’s table).  If you want a copy of the catalog with details about the dogs entered, they are for sale at the show club’s table.  Now you have time to relax, get a cup of coffee, walk the dog, and meet up with friends before doing some touch-up grooming on your dog.

About 15 minutes before your ring time, put your armband number on your left arm and go to ringside with your dog.  If the grooming area is not close to the show ring, many exhibitors will put their dog in its crate for transport, load up the trolley and wheel the dog over to ringside, along with show ring essentials (e.g. show lead, comb, bait, water, handbag/wallet, and folding chair)—taking the dog out of the crate once there.

In the Show Ring

The judge has some discretion in how the ring is managed during judging (e.g., where the dogs stand, the pattern used for gaiting).  It helps to watch a previous breed being judged, by the same judge.  Be on time and at the ring gate when the steward calls your armband number.  Follow the judge’s and steward’s instructions in the ring.  Remember, if you win 1st place in your class, you will compete for Winners! If you win 2nd place you might compete for Reserve Winners. So, stay close to the ring—don’t leave.

Results

Success!  You and your dog did well in the show ring, and your dog is one of the winners.  If you want a picture with the judge, be sure to let the ring steward know as you exit the ring.  Sometimes the show photographer will come to the show ring immediately to take the official show pictures, and other times, you will be asked to meet the judge at the photographer’s booth after the judging session is over.  In any case, you will need the armband number, ribbon, your dog on a show lead, and bait.  Smile!

If you didn’t win, congratulate the winners!  The important point is to do your best, have fun, and make new friends—even if your dog is not the winner today, there’s always another dog show!  Good luck!

Elaine C. Jong, MD

Photo credit: Janos & Nancy Fonyo